Monday, October 02, 2006

OT: The Wal-Mart Way

From today's New York Times,:

Wal-Mart executives say they have embraced new policies for a large number of their 1.3 million workers to better serve their customers, especially at busy shopping times — and point out that competitors like Sears and Target have made some of these moves, too.

But some Wal-Mart workers say the changes are further reducing their already modest incomes and putting a serious strain on their child-rearing and personal lives. Current and former Wal-Mart workers say some managers have insisted that they make themselves available around the clock, and assert that the company is making changes with an eye to forcing out longtime higher-wage workers to make way for lower-wage part-time employees.
. . . . . . .
“They need to be doing some of this,” said Charles Grom, an analyst at J. P. Morgan Chase who covers Wal-Mart. It lets the company schedule employees “when they are generating most of their sales — at lunch, in the evening on the weekends.”

I wonder if Charles Grom works for minimum wage part time, with no health benefits except as he is "encouraged" to use Medicaid as Wal-Mart workers are. I wonder if he is called into work at varying times of the day or night, disrupting family life and sleep schedules.

Human resources experts have long said that companies benefit most from having experienced workers. Yet Wal-Mart officials say the efficiencies they gain will outweigh the effects of having what labor experts say would be a less experienced, less stable, lower-paid work force.

Sarah Clark, a Wal-Mart spokeswoman, said the company viewed the changes as “a productivity improvement through which we will improve the shopping experience for our customers and make Wal-Mart a better place to work for our associates,” as Wal-Mart refers to its employees.
. . .
Tracie Sandin, who worked in the Yakima store’s over-the-counter drug department until last February, said, “They said, if you don’t have open availability, you’re put on the bottom of the list for hours.”

The view varies, apparently, if you're being paid the big bucks to abuse the noble art of rhetoric by spinning self-justifying lies, as Sarah Clark does, or whether you actually have to, you know, work under these "productivity improvements."

The article also goes on to say that since Wal-Mart began its plan to exterminate fire its older and disabled employees, it has removed stools and other items that allowed people with back and hip problems to work comfortably at checkout counters. Last year, an executive also favored making all employees go out and get carts, lift heavy boxes, etc., to get rid of those who might even possibly need health care. What's next? Races in which the first 10 employees getting to the finish line can keep their jobs and the rest are fired?

In addition to the obvious inequities of the Wal-Mart way for the company's employees, what troubles me is that the Wal-Mart way creeps into the academy, especially in the exploitation of part-time faculty (been there!), despite all the noble resolutions passed at MLA every year. It isn't news that there's an increasing pressure to treat students as customers by being available around the clock, teaching only that which is entertaining, and so forth. The comparison isn't fair--Wal-Mart employees don't have any options, and academics presumably do--but it's an uncomfortable reminder of where things could be headed.


Professor Zero said...

Good post on WM! Academia, going that way, yes. The teaching only what's entertaining problem does go away after tenure...until tenure is abolished, of course.

undine said...

It's a frightening thought (that tenure can/will be abolished), since then it could well be all entertainment, all the time.